After wading through over a thousand author websites, here’s some stuff I’ve learned:
(1) Don’t have a site that takes time to load. Potential visitors might not be that patient. Corollary: get a reliable hosting company. If your page doesn’t load at all, no one can visit it.
(2) Don’t have a splash page. You’re asking your visitor to click one more link just to see what you have to offer.
(3) Have buy-it online store links to (at least) your latest book on the first page a visitor goes to.
(4) Don’t have too much content on your first page. Keep it simple.
(5) Corollary to (4): don’t have a non-content design that is too busy or cluttered. It makes it difficult for visitors to find what they’re looking for.
(6) Corollary 2 to (4): don’t overload your front page with text. You have something to say? (of course you do, you’re a writer), that’s what a blog and content-specific pages are for. Get to the point on the main page, and provide a link for more information.
Corollary to the corollary: I have mixed feelings about having your blog *be* your main page. If people visit your site mostly for your blog, then cool. But it’s probably best to have each entry excerpted with the full text of the entry available with a link.
(7) Keep it simple, but do have something of your personality on the main page. Generic websites don’t sell authors.
(8) Don’t put real personal stuff on your main page or your blog. If you want to talk about personal experiences in your blog which might be interesting to your readers, cool. But don’t post candid pictures of you at that male strip club you went to last night unless that’s the kind of book you’re selling. It just looks unprofessional.
(9) I hate, Hate, HATE the word “branding.” Most writers did not get a business or marketing degree in college and find that kind of terminology alien. I eagerly await the day it falls out of self-help books. That wasn’t really a website tip, just an aside.
(10) Clickable picture links are cool, but make it clear that’s what they are. Don’t make it hard for your visitor to move beyond the first page.
(11) Pay your friggin’ bill. Going to a website and seeing a “this website suspended” looks really bad. So does ending up on one of those generic, linky “this domain for sale” pages. Who else could possibly want YourName.com? Not many.
(12) Flash is cool, but a lot of people have crickety old computers from before the turn of the century. No, really. That said, do make your website look like it wasn’t programmed before the turn of the century. Pure HTML doesn’t impress anyone anymore. Take it from someone who knows.